Time and the Economy

We live in an age where all aspects of social life have become a commodity. Pretty much anything can be bought if you have access to the funds and capital to purchase it and there is a market for anything to be sold.

Time, in particular, has come to represent one of the most valuable commodities (Wright 2013) to be bought and sold within a neoliberal context. Within this context, efficiency is key. We are pushed to feel that we are producing enough output within a given time (Wajcman 2015). And it is usually an allotted time that is bought or sold, where you will gain access to a worker’s expertise or service within the allotted time.

For this and because of this there is a need to regulate our own and other’s time. Rather than governing their own natural sequence, workers must submit to a scientific time. This is a way of measuring time which is external to us: whereas humans would naturally work with how time is represented in nature (e.g. the rising of the sun), we now  use clocks and calendars to govern ourselves. Elias (1992) writes that in a covert way, time is also used as a form of regulation for the worker, who is expected to meet contractual arrangements in temporal form. This has been internalised in a manner that the sense that an individual’s time is their own responsibility is embedded, and time is very much linked to the economy in that it should not be ‘wasted’ and should be used for productivity.

The economy is governed by time and productivity or loss is quantified through time: if internet connection is lost, if public transport strikes occur, if workers are late; this is all quantified in a loss of company revenue because of the time lost. Time has become increasingly important, emphasised in the idiom ‘time is money’.

In Britain, our government have imposed conditions of ‘austerity’ in response to a financial crisis. These recessional economic conditions have placed further demands on the time of workers as companies push to do more for less. The norm is now to have less workers ‘working smarter’ in order to complete the same tasks.

There is also a need to consider the effects this has on our leisure time. Wright’s (2013) thinkpiece talks of how people feel they have less, and the implications this has for activities such as volunteering. This provides a problem for a society where more volunteer work is needed because funded support has been withdrawn or reduced.

The role of technology also has to be considered here. Wajcman (2015) talks about the contradiction of having so much technology to hand which has been designed to save us time, but yet we still feel like we have less time. I won’t talk too much about this because I’d like to save it for another post. But we can’t really have a discussion about time in the economy without acknowledging the role of technology.

This forms the context for the research on sex work and time. Time is integral to today’s economy as a commodity but also as a form of regulation. What is particularly interesting is how this is mirrored in informal economies, such as sex work but also other areas of informal work which is not officially regulated. Although these economies should sit outside of formal regulation, and therefore sit outside of normal temporal demands, there is evidence that they still have the same relationship with time.



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